Smiles of a Summer Night (Sommarnattens leende)
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Written by Ingmar Bergman
Repeat viewing/DVD collection
#313 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
For my money, this is the most charmingly poetic romantic comedy of all time.
The story takes place at Midsummer near the end of the 19th century in Sweden. Lawyer Fredrik Engerman (Gunnar Bjornstrand) has married his young ward Anne (Ulla Jacobsen). She is now about 18 but the marriage is still unconsumated. The pair live with servants, including randy parlor maid Petra (Harriet Andersson), who is the same age as Anne. Fredrik’s gloomy adult son from his first marriage, Henrik, a student of theology, is visiting.
One day as he is enjoying a chaste nap with Anne, Fredrik utters the word “Desiree” in his sleep. This is the actress Desiree Arnfelt (Eva Dahlbeck). Desiree and Fredrik had an affair following the death of his first wife at the end of which she dumped him. Fredrik and Anne go to see Desiree in the theater but Anne asks to return home with a sick headache, a fairly common maneuver with her. Frederik sneaks out later to visit Desiree. Their reunion is interrupted by the arrival of her lover Count Carl Magnus Malcolm, a pompous and macho officer.
Desiree decides to do a little match-making, including some of her own, and invites Fredrik and Carl Magnus, with their respective wives, as well as Henrik for a weekend at her mother’s country estate. We get a lot of great dialogue plus a complicated suite of romantic maneuvers before every person at the event ends up with the right partner.
I love this movie. It reminds me a bit of Renoir’s Rules of the Game without the tragedy. All the acting is perfection as are many of the shots and moments. Desiree’s mother is priceless. The ending is sublime. I wish Bergman had continued to direct some comedies later into his career. Highly recommended.
The story was remade as Sondheim’s Broadway musical A Little Night Music and the 1977 movie made from that musical.